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Chief Strategy Officer Sasha Grujicic sums up the digital marketing challenge at Google’s YouTube Pulse event

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After taking the stage at Google Canada‘s YouTube Pulse event on September 14, Sasha shares with MARKETING his vision on the opportunities and challenges that the third wave of digital brings to businesses.

Something kind of weird happened to Sasha Grujicic before he took the stage at Google Canada‘s YouTube Pulse event in Toronto last week.

As one of the hosts walked through the evening’s speakers — which included YouTube creator Lauren Vitale and George Stroumboulopoulos, among others — there was thunderous applause and occasional screams. When Grujicic’s name was called, there was one, solitary shriek. “That’s nice for Sasha,” Google Canada’s managing director Sam Sebastian joked. “His wife must be in the audience.”

When Grujicic came up as the closing speaker, however, he pretended to look really confused. “It’s true, my wife is here — I was sitting with her in the back,” he said. “But she wasn’t the one who screamed.”

That little mystery is nothing compared to what Grujicic, chief strategy officer at Dentsu Aegis Network Canada, and his peers have to contend with in client meetings, of course. In fact, Grujicic admitted, as impressive as the growth of YouTube and other online platforms is, the ad industry is still struggling to ensure digital opportunities are properly explained and followed through.

“We kind of oversold it a little bit,” Grujicic said in reference to digital ad spending. “Clients would say, ‘It didn’t do anything,’ and we would say, ‘But we got clicks!’ or ‘But we got views!’ And they would say, ‘But we didn’t sell anything.’”

This slow but steady reckoning over digital ROI has been coming for years, but it has become a particularly strong topic of conversation in 2016. I heard many of the same things while attending C2 Montreal this spring. It was an underlying theme of this year’s TV upfronts, and now I feel like it’s coming back again as many firms’ fiscal years come to a close.

Grujicic, who was by far the most compelling speaker of the night at YouTube Pulse, balanced his mea culpa with a conviction that turning back is not the answer.

“During the first and second waves of digital, we didn’t fully understand the full business impact of technology. Now we’re in the third wave of digital, but some companies are hesitant to lean into the opportunities that arise from technology after years of uncertainty,” he said. “We desperately need to overcome our deficit in old-world business knowledge as it relates to digital, because digital is the only real growth area in the world economy. We now have the ability to take an audience-first approach based on rich segmentation and behavioural data, and to demonstrate the business impacts clearly.”

That could mean taking the data that companies can gather through digital interactions and pair it with economic modelling, he suggested. Or, in Dentsu Aegis Network Canada’s case, it could mean working with its proprietary Consumer Connection System (CCS) to take those segmentations and hone in on attitudinal nuances.

“We need to move from channel planning or screen planning to audience-based planning,” he said, concluding, “Don’t do what I did. Don’t f*** it up.”

I think he was joking — sort of. But, even if they don’t do it in such a high-profile way, I suspect there will be many others making a confession similar to Grujicic’s to their clients over the next few months. CMOs will have no choice but to accept them, and I do believe they’ll lean into digital, but in this case leaning in means they’ll be looking a lot more closely over agencies’ shoulders for a long time to come.

This article was originally published in Marketing